Thursday 12 April 2018

The Patient Waiting - Maitri and Health Anxiety

The Patient Waiting - Maitri and Health Anxiety

By Casey Douglass

Blue Buddha - Casey Douglass

I have a doctor’s appointment today. Well, I say today, it’s early this evening, so might just as well be tomorrow. I don’t say this as someone wanting to bash waiting times or the NHS, I’m saying it as someone who knows how appointments can loom over your day, particularly if you suffer with any kind of health anxiety. I’m happy to have it at the time it is, I just need to get there, one second at a time.

It makes me sound like the laziest time-traveller around. I mean, it takes zero conscious effort to move forward in time at the same speed as everyone else. I say conscious because I know that during this time, your body is using chemical reactions and doing other things to stay alive, which is certainly effortful. Unless you are a robot. Hmm, a robot could be viewed in a similar way, using chemical energy in its battery to function. Okay, you might be a human or a robot, it makes no difference to this post I guess. Best of luck to you whichever you are.

I am a patient person. Decades of meditation and living with an anxiety disorder have shown me the virtue of being patient, both for health reasons, and in social interactions. It’s harder some times than others, like when you have a medical appointment looming, but there seems like a whole day between now and then. To top things off, your mind is firmly in the future already, waving from the doctor’s office, speaking to the doctor, getting that verdict on just what is wrong or right with you. That’s the tough part, the continual gentle effort of trying to keep the mind in the present moment. The lure of reassurance fantasies, or worst case scenario horror-fests, is a force that is hard to bear.

Since my current health anxiety flared last weekend, I have been practising the Buddhist notion of maitri, of loving kindness. This entails gently getting the mind to “stay” with whatever is going on in the current moment, to open up to it rather than to close off or push things away. It is something I’ve done before and have found new interest in this past week. I just sit, focus on my breath, and let myself feel what I feel, breathing it into my heart. On the exhale, I see whatever might help that feeling or state being projected to myself, and everyone else in the same situation. So in this case, I might be breathing in nervousness, and breathing out ease. I’m not doing it for any kind of outcome, to “get rid” of the feeling or to change it. I’m just trying to become friends with myself, as sitting with someone and wanting to change them isn’t often borne from a friendly place is it?

So that’s probably me for the day, doing the best I can to spend my time in a way that is helpful, with periods of maitri and rest. I feel that I’ve embraced the chance to practice “being” with how today is panning out, and I can see how it presents an opportunity to open up to things. Hopefully, and signs seem to point this way as far as I can tell at least, things will be, or are, okay. Whatever happens, I want to use this opportunity to grow as a person, as there will inevitably come a time when things won’t be okay, and I’d like to greet that time in as open a way as possible.

Thank you for reading, and I hope your day is going as well as possible.